Title: Of Fire and Stars (Part 1)
Rating: R (for extreme violence, in later chapters)
Warnings: Major Gimli Angst
Archive: If you want it you got it
Disclaimer: I'm not making any profit off this. With the exception of a few of the original characters, Gimli and all the other characters belong to J.R.R. Tolkien (who's probably spinning in his grave as we speak).
Summary: Gandalf comes across Beorn on his way to the Lonely Mountain, and Beorn shows him something he's found in the woods. Takes place during 'The Hobbit', a story about a certain Dwarf, that would later become one of the Nine Walkers. His past and the hardships that he's had to endure.
Notes: This is a 'book verse' fic and not a 'movie verse' fic. I'm trying to stay in 'canon' as much as possible with this fic, but since Tolkien told us so little about Dwarven society, I'm adding my own speculations. I'm also stretching Tolkien's whole Dwarves only love once thing. I do think Dwarves only fall in love once and once they find that someone they won't settle for anyone else. But until then (like most guys) all bets are off. Sex is not Love, it can be a major part of it but the act itself is not love. Big thanks to my wonderful beta reader Morrighan and all her helpful nit-picking ~_^.
More Notes: If you find yourself saying "I don't think it happened that way!". Well, then go do your own. This is only one version and there is a crying need for more Gimli centric fics ~_^.
Newly added notes: A huge thank you to Little My, for double beta-reading this chapter and really cleaning it up! *sigh* I think I'm in love ^_^!
It was early dawn as a tall figure with a staff made its way on a path through the trees of Mirkwood. He walked swiftly, for he still had a ways to go and his mission was important, and, more to the point, he was incredibly hungry.
If he hurried he would be able to spare a little time with the Elves to rest a while and get something for his gnawing stomach.
Pulling his dark cloak tighter about himself to ward against the early morning chill, Gandalf cursed not for the first time his lack of a horse as he walked briskly towards the Lonely Mountain. And more specifically, towards the camp of the Elves and Lake Men waiting to lay siege to the mountain.
He would have to hurry for he brought tidings from the north of the massing of a Goblin army that was already on its way. He also needed to check up on Thorin's company, not to mention watch out for little Bilbo in the coming battle.
Confound it! How that party got into such mischief with him not there! he snorted to himself.
"If it's not trolls, or getting lost, it's instigating a war!" he grumbled aloud.
He'd heard from some Elves (for Elves are always ones for gossip and the latest news) that the Elven King's greed had gotten the better of him and he had taken an army to the Lonely Mountain for a share of the treasure. He had taken not only two of his older sons but also his youngest to this battle, obviously thinking it would be a good experience for the young archer.
"As if I need more to worry about!" he groused to himself.
The young Elf's part in the tapestry of Middle Earth did not come into play yet, and would not for many years. Gandalf could not explain it but something told him, a feeling in his marrow, that Thranduil's child would play a key role in a coming storm that grew, even now, unknown to all except a few such as himself. A dark storm that would change Middle Earth and shape its destiny.
And he had made it his prerogative to look out for these key players in that coming destiny, and hope they managed to stay alive to fulfill it. Luckily for Gandalf a few of those key players were not even born yet.
But for now his main concern was the coming battle and stopping those fool Men, Elves, and soon-to-arrive Dwarves (from the Iron Hills, not Thorin and Company) from destroying each other, and to somehow work together to fight the real enemy.
So lost in his thoughts was Gandalf that he almost walked right by an enormous Man standing to the left of his path. He came to a halt at the Man's seeming sudden appearance. It was the skin-changer, Beorn. He chided himself for not sensing the Man earlier.
"Beorn, I was not expecting to see you around here," he said, mildly surprised. For truth was, he had thought he had seen the last of the skin-changer for some time, after he made sure Thorin and the others had returned the ponies they'd borrowed before entering Mirkwood.
Beorn let out a loud laugh and walking up to the tall Wizard, gave him a friendly whack on the back that nearly knocked Gandalf off his feet.
"Gandalf! I almost didn't recognize you with that cloak. Luckily I recognized that Wizard stink of yours!" he said, the grin on his big face nearly hidden by his bushy black beard. He did not seem to see or care, about the Wizard's insulted reaction to his comment about his 'stink'.
"As for why I'm here, there's the smell of a coming battle in the air. The birds are all singing about it. And I intend to be a part of it!" he boomed in his loud voice, crossing his large arms over his huge chest as if stating an obvious fact.
"Well, good for you. I too wish to take part, and I am on my way there now-- with urgent tidings, in fact," Gandalf said as he straightened his tall pointy hat, preparing to leave. "Now, if you'll excuse me I must be goi-" but he was interrupted by the were-bear.
"Hold up, now! I stopped you for a reason, not because I wanted to say 'good morning' or 'hello'," he said rudely. "I stopped you because I have a question to ask. And I figured it might answer a little riddle I found in the woods yesterday."
Gandalf was feeling decidedly put out by now, not to mention somewhat irritated (though you would never have guessed by looking at him, and even if he had Beorn would probably not have cared anyway). But being a Wizard, and a fairly wise one at that, he decided to see what Beorn wanted to know. And, with luck, answer it quickly and be on his way.
"Oh now? And what question is that?" asked Gandalf as he leaned against his staff, peering up at the great bear of a Man that towered over him.
Unfolding his great arms, Beorn put one hand on his hip while he stroked his thick beard in thought.
"Those dwarves-- fourteen I believe it was, with that small rabbit one."
"Yes, that was Thorin's company and Mr. Baggins."
"Yes, them! Now, did any of those Dwarves have cubs?"
Both of Gandalf's bushy eyebrows shot up in genuine surprise at this. This was definitely not the question Gandalf was expecting from the hulking man. Cubs? It took him a moment to answer the large Man as he got his mind back on track.
"Well yes," he started. "Fili and Kili are Thorin's sisters-sons but he has none of his own; the same goes for the others. But Balin has two daughters and one boy. Dori had two boys but they were killed by plague. Then there's Gloin's boy-" Once again, he was rudely interrupted.
"If I wanted to know about all of that, I would have asked! All I wanted to know was if they had any cubs. And now I know," Beorn snorted, then turned and started to walk back into the forest.
Gandalf watched his retreating form until it disappeared into the trees. Shaking his head at the strange encounter, he started walking once more, then stopped to glance again to where Beorn had disappeared.
He was a bit befuddled at such a queer question, and though he hated to admit it, he was quite intrigued as to what had made Beorn ask it.
I have no time for this! he chided himself and started again down the path leading to the Lonely Mountain.
If I want to get something to eat and rest awhile before that fool Thranduil starts bandying threats about with Thorin , then I must leave this strange business for another time, he told himself as he walked on.
The Mountain looming ahead was painted orange and pink from the rising sun, and flocks of birds swirled and circled in the distance.
But no matter how hard he tried, he couldn't get Beorn's question out of his head. Did any of those Dwarves have cubs? Why would Beorn ask such a strange question? Beorn was not the kind of person to wonder, let alone care if someone he'd only just met had children. Gandalf suddenly stopped, eyes going wide. Unless…..
"Beorn!" he yelled as he ran back to where he had seen Beorn disappear into the woods.
It took much rushing about and searching, but Gandalf finally found Beorn again lumbering through the wood. Gandalf matched his pace to Beorn's, walking to his right and a little behind. Beorn had spared him a glance and then seemed to ignore the Wizard's presence.
"If I may ask?" Gandalf started.
"You may," Beorn said, not even bothering to look at the Wizard as he continued on his way.
"What was it, pray tell, that brought about your question?" he asked. Though he had a terrible feeling and was quite anxious to find out, he made his question sound as trivial as if he was asking Beorn what he thought of the weather.
"If you follow me I'll show you," Beorn rumbled and began his story.
"I was out yesterday afternoon making my way to the mountain, when I came upon some tracks and a strange scent-- one I hadn't smelled before, but there was something familiar about it. And since the tracks were headed in the same direction I was headed, I decided to follow them," Beorn told him as they moved through the trees and brush. Gandalf could now see a clearing up ahead, and it was obviously where the skin-changer was headed.
"I followed the tracks to this clearing. And what do I find? But a friend laying murdered!" he growled.
They then entered the clearing. It was fairly small but with enough room to accommodate an eight man camp with horses. A medium-sized tree grew near the center of the clearing with what appeared to be a large sack tied to one of its branches. Occasionally Gandalf could see movement from the sack as something thrashed in it. There was some grass and a few weeds growing but the clearing's floor was mainly of light gray sheet rock. There also appeared to be the start of a small fire with bits of wood scattered about the clearing. It looked as if a struggle had taken place, as if someone had been in the process of building a fire when they were suddenly attacked.
"Look! There she is, poor thing. I had talked to her just three days before."
Beorn pointed to one side of the clearing where the carcass of a deer was lying, its head at an odd angle. Gandalf raised an eyebrow. It was now clear that whoever had killed the deer had made the camp in the clearing with intentions of lighting a fire to cook it.
"I see," he said, before turning his attention back to the tree and the hanging sack, and more importantly its struggling contents. "I don't suppose that sack over there contains this 'riddle' of yours?" Gandalf asked.
Beorn looked up from shaking his head sadly at the dead doe. "What?" he said in confusion before catching Gandalf's meaning. "Oh, yes! That's the riddle and a very mean one at that. The most ill-tempered creature I've ever come across! If I didn't know better I would say he was half badger!" And that was truly something for Beorn to make such a remark, for Beorn was well known for his own ill-temper. "I was wondering what to do with him when I spotted you," he said.
Gandalf watched as the huge Man walked over to the tree and untied the large sack from the branch, then picked it up one handed as if it weighed nothing. Whatever was in the sack stopped struggling and went still.
On closer inspection of the tan-colored sack, Gandalf realized it was a goblin's kidknapsack (a special type of sack that had a small spell it which muted anything in it. So as soon as the sack was closed no sound could escape from it, no matter how loud. Perfect for kidnapping people). Obviously Beorn had gotten it from one of his many goblin victims.
He watched with anticipation as Beorn began to untie the sack, though you couldn't tell by looking at him leaning casually on his staff.
Beorn finally opened the sack and they were both greeted by a truly menacing growl from within. Beorn reached into the sack with surprising speed and grabbed hold of its contents, for it had started to thrash madly, and cursing that could peel the bark off trees could be heard. Having apparently gotten a firm grip whatever it was, Beorn lifted his arm and pulled out one of the scruffiest, downright wildest looking Dwarves you have ever seen.
Beorn's large hand held the young Dwarf by his long thick hair near the back of his head, as if he had tried to get hold of him by the scruff of the neck. He wore an old faded and ripped red shirt with no sleeves, a pair of simple britches that had been mended many times by the look of them, and only one scuffed up brown boot on one of his kicking feet. He also wore a thick leather belt specially made so one could attach and carry heavy weapons and pouches, though none were attached just then. It was the only thing on the Dwarf that was not falling apart.
As for the Dwarf himself he was filthy with dust, dirt, and what looked to be the remains of some coal soot. His hair and short beard (short because of his young age) were tangled with leaves and dirt, obviously having not had a proper grooming in some time. Beorn had also apparently managed to tie his hands behind his back with some thick rope. The Dwarf glared balefully at Beorn with deep glittering brown eyes, white teeth bared in a snarl, growling, all the while being held only by his hair many feet above the ground by the huge Man.
Gandalf almost dropped his staff. He knew this Dwarf! He had known him since before he could crawl. And what happened next almost made the Wizard's heart stop.
"Well, cub! What do ya have to say for yourself! You little killer of innocent deer!" Beorn boomed. The Dwarf had stopped struggling and Beorn made the mistake of holding the young Dwarf closer to his face to intimidate him.
"Cub! I am no cub! I'm probably older than you are! You ass! And as for what I have to say: GO BOIL YOUR HEAD!" the Dwarf bellowed. And with that he kicked Beorn right in the face (with the foot that had the boot on it, of course).
Beorn let out a deafening roar that made him sound more like a bear than a Man. He stumbled back, nearly dropping the Dwarf as he clutched at his now very broken nose with his other huge hand. He bellowed and cursed for a while, then he went quiet, and the air seemed to become oppressively thick.
No one had ever dared talk to Beorn that way, let alone break his nose. Beorn dropped his hand (the one holding his nose) to his side where it clenched into a fist. Then he looked at the glaring Dwarf, still dangling from his other fist, with a strange light in his eyes. Blood from his nose dribbled thickly over his mouth, running into his beard and staining the lower half of his face red. It made him look truly savage. Then Beorn spoke in a deep menacing voice that made a shiver run up even Gandalf's spine, powerful Wizard though he was.
"What would you say, Dwarf, if I told you that I'm going to rip you limb from limb, grind your bones into flour, and eat you?
"I hope you choke and die of poisoning!" spat the Dwarf, seeming not the least bit frightened.
There was a deathly silence as they glared at one another. Everything was quiet-- even the air seemed to hold its breath. Gandalf was sure that in a moment he would be forced to watch as Beorn ripped the young Dwarf apart…he hurriedly searched his mind for a spell that he might use to rescue the Dwarf without having to kill the enraged skin-changer.
But Beorn suddenly threw back his head a let out a deep rolling laugh that echoed all around. Then he turned to Gandalf, still chuckling.
"What did I tell you! He's a regular badger! Ha, ha, my opinion of Dwarves keeps getting higher and higher," he laughed loudly, then turned back to the Dwarf who was now struggling again. "I like you, cub!"
"Well I DON'T LIKE YOU! And who the hell are you talking to!? You witless, mangy-"
The Dwarf suddenly noticed the tall Wizard out of the corner of his eye (since he could not turn his head with Beorn's grip on his hair).
"So you two know each other?" Beorn asked, looking between the two. "Well, good." And with that the huge Man dropped the Dwarf, who landed with a thump and a colorful curse.
He managed with some difficulty (his hands still tied behind his back) to climb to his feet. Then throwing a withering glare at the still chuckling Man, he stumbled over to Gandalf, keeping a wary eye on the skin-changer as the Wizard grabbed his shoulder and turned him around. Without a word Gandalf unsheathed Glamdring and cut the ropes binding the Dwarf before re-sheathing it again.
The Dwarf gave a sigh of relief at having his hands free and began to rub his wrists to get the circulation back into them.
"My thanks, Gandalf," he said. If he had been paying more attention to the strangely silent Wizard and not glaring at Beorn (who was watching with amusement), he might have been able to avoid a painful bump on the head.
But he did not.
"Ow!" he yelped, rubbing his sore head and giving the Wizard a glare, which merely earned him another blow from his staff.
"Ow!!!" This time a few muttered curses followed, as he rubbed his now twice aching head.
"Gimli, Son Of Gloin, Grandson of Groin!! What in Aule's name are you doing here?!" boomed Gandalf angrily as he loomed over the Dwarf.
"What I'm doing here is no business but my own!" he grumbled as he crossed his arms in defiance. Needless to say this was not the smartest thing for Gimli to say to the shocked, frustrated, and now quite angry Wizard.
"Then that bastard sat on me! And shoved my face into the dirt, twisted my arms behind my back and tied me up, then tossed me into that damned sack!" Gimli grumbled, as he finished tying his long dark copper-colored hair into a loose ponytail, except for two long forelocks which were left unbraided. It had taken him a whole hour of grooming with Gandalf's borrowed comb before his hair and beard were completely combed and free of tangles, twigs and other things. He had even managed to wash most of the dirt and grime off in a nearby stream that Beorn had showed them.
"Then you came along," he said, getting up, a bit embarrassed remembering his behavior that morning. "I thank you again, Gandalf, I am at your service." He bowed low in proper Dwarf fashion to the Wizard before sitting back down. Then he turned a troubled gaze to the flames and their cooking lunch.
Gandalf sat quietly, listening thoughtfully and smoking his beloved pipe across the fire from the now silent Dwarf.
That was not the whole story. What was Gimli doing on his way to the Iron Hills? And where are his supplies?Gandalf asked himself, puzzled. All he seems to have are his axes and the clothes on his back. There's something different about him as well, something in his eyes that I can't place.
Something was troubling Gimli-- something that was weighing heavily on the Dwarf's heart, but Gandalf decided to let Gimli keep his secrets until after their meal. Gimli looked underweight as if he hadn't been eating regularly, and he also had a few new scars on his arms and shoulders that he did not have last Gandalf saw him. He would get to the bottom of this mystery, but for now he left Gimli alone.
Beorn had left them to their own devices earlier. Gandalf suspected it had to do with the two large cuts of meat roasting above the flames and the deer carcass Gimli had butchered lying not a yard away. Beorn did not eat meat, for he could talk with animals and considered them his friends and he their guardian.
It had been quite the scene when Beorn had tried to take the deer carcass off to bury it. Needless to say, Gandalf's hat now had a rip in it, and Gimli had some new scrapes and bruises. Beorn had found out the hard way that not only are Dwarves immensely strong for their height, but that their beards hide powerful jaws and rather large sharp canine teeth. Beorn now sported some nasty bite wounds from when he'd tried to grab the enraged Dwarf in the fight over the deer (never take a starving Dwarf's food).
It was only after much yelling and bellowing that Gandalf had managed to carefully explain to Beorn that Dwarves are primarily meat eaters and needed to hunt for food occasionally. So with grudging assurances from Gimli (under glare and threat of Gandalf's staff) that, yes, the deer's death had been as swift and painless as possible, Beorn reluctantly left the carcass to them.
It was late morning, almost noon in the small clearing. The sun was out but the fall air was still crisp, even in the light of the sun's rays.
'So much for rest and good Elvish food with the Elves and Lake Men,' Gandalf grumped to himself, taking in his surroundings. 'Oh well, nothing to be done about it now. Could be worse, but the food could be better though.' He eyed the roasting venison. 'But the company's good, even though they're not supposed to be here,' he thought, observing the young Dwarf sitting across the fire.
It was hard to imagine that the copper-haired Dwarf, thoughtfully cleaning the blade of one of his axes, was the same one that Beorn had pulled scruffy and snarling out of that sack-- or who had later attacked the skin-changer bare-hand when he had started to walk away with the deer carcass. Gandalf still could not figure out how Gimli had managed to knock the huge Man to the ground. Gandalf shook his head in amazement at the memory; Gimli truly was his mother's child.
Gimli, son and only remaining child of the late Lady Nei Burkdis of the Iron Fists and of Gloin son of Groin of the line of Durin. A smile tugged at the corners of his mouth at the fond memories and old adventures brought up by that name.
While females are rarely seen and rarely mentioned when above ground with outsiders, it was actually the Dwarrow-Dams that held true power in Dwarven society. The head of most families was the Matriarch, rather than a male like most other Middle-earth cultures, and Dwarrow-Dams were fierce warriors, as strong and sturdy as the males (if not more so). Most Dwarrow-Dams held high stations of power and many acted as enforcement in keeping the safety and peace of the various Dwarven communities. For even a King must bow before the wishes of a Matriarch. It was truly one of the few female-dominant societies in Middle-earth.
The Great Lady Nei Burkdis was more commonly called Lady Nei, the Axe Goddess! She was a veteran of many battles including the Great War of Dwarves and Orcs (in fact it was during the last great battle, the Battle of Nanduhirion, that she and Gloin met). She was considered very beautiful, even with the jagged scar that ran through her right eye and up into her hairline. While Gimli had inherited his father's deep brown eyes, his 'Fire touch', and unfortunately his sharp tongue, he had inherited his mother's deep copper-colored hair, her good looks, and her skill with an axe. It was now apparent to Gandalf that he had also inherited her terrible temper! Nei was known to be a true hellcat both on and off the battlefield.
Lady Nei was also one of the few Dwarf women to spend most of her life above ground (though not intentionally, owing mostly to the troubles Thorin's people had suffered in recent years, as well as other factors beyond her control). Most non-Dwarves, how ever would most likely have mistaken her for a young male.
Her weapons of choice had been twin single-blade axes called 'Fire Ripper' and 'Star Smasher', along with a heavy double-bladed battle axe called 'Blood Screamer' (so called for the sound it would make if it was swung at high speeds). All three weapons had been passed down from her father and to him from his mother and so on. And they now belonged to Nei's son, Gimli.
It was actually the return of these three axes that had truly calmed the young Dwarf down earlier. Beorn had hidden them along with Gimli's missing boot under a bush for safe keeping after he had "sacked" Gimli. It was incredibly lucky that Beorn had come upon the young Dwarf when he had for it had been the one time he had not been near any of his weapons, all of them leaning against the tree waiting to be cleaned. Otherwise their encounter would have definitely been much bloodier.
It is common knowledge that almost all Dwarves are excellent fighters with or without weapons. But there are some truly gifted Dwarves and Nei as well as her brother, Ni Vigfuss, were from a long line of gifted fighters. In fact Nei's two favorite sayings were: "Anyone can swing an axe! But it takes a Master to wieled it!" and "An axe is cruel and speaks ugly. So it is up to us to make up for its crudeness and wield it with grace!" It is said that Dwarves cannot dance, except in the heat of battle. And woe to the being they choose to dance with! Lady Nei's dancing was both truly wondrous and terrible.
She had started to teach her children as soon as they were old enough to hold an axe, but only one had inherited her gift for 'dancing'.
Gandalf carefully tapped the old ash out of his pipe before packing a little more weed into its bowl. He caught Gimli eyeing his pipe longingly.
"Would you like to take a few puffs?" he said, offering his pipe.
"My thanks, Gandalf," Gimli said with no little disappointment. "But no, I'm still getting over black-lung." He waved off the offered pipe, and moved instead to start on the next axe to be cleaned. It was 'Fire Ripper'; the wizard could tell by the intricate flame design on both sides of the blade.
Gandalf gave an approving nod at Gimli's choice to not partake in a few puffs. While Dwarves are one of the few species that could recover from black-lung, an almost guaranteed fatal affliction to other species, it could still kill them, so smoking was wisely avoided until the body had rid itself of the black tare in the lungs. Gandalf took a few more puffs before all fell quiet again as they both returned to their own thoughts.
Nei had given birth to five children--a good number by Dwarf standards. Their first baby was a boy who had black hair like his father and eyes like his mother. They named him Daira. When Daira was five years old Nei gave birth to twin boys, Nin and Gimli (twins being quite common for Dwarves), then two years later a much wished for daughter they named Minal, who took after her father in features and temperament. She was the apple of Gloin's eye; many a day they would sing as Gloin went about his work, little Minal trotting behind, helping as much as she could, giggling and humming happily. Then finally three years after Minal came little Mano who had his father's hair and shocking light gray eyes (very rare for Dwarves).
They lived simply, most would say poorly, no better than wandering peasants. Food was not always plentiful, their clothes worn and mended often, and all of the clothes the children wore were hand-me -downs. The labor was hard, and they were always on the move from place to place. Many, Men, Elves, and occasionally even well-to-do Dwarves looked upon them with scorn as they tried to sell their meager wares.
But they were happy, and even many, many years later when Gloin was wealthy, well-fed, a lord and hero living in his nice comfortable home in the Lonely Mountain, he would quietly sit in front of his large stone fireplace gazing into the dancing flames, remembering back to simpler days. Back to when he would sit with his beloved Nei in his arms on sunny days, laughing and whispering sweet nothings into the shell of her ear. Giving and getting the occasional playful nip or tug on his beard as well as stealing a kiss whenever the opportunity arose. Watching his younger brother, Oin, swinging a giggling Minal around in his arms as her raven hair whipped about in the air. Daira giving little Mano a piggyback ride as he pointed out the yellow and blue flutter-wings (butterflies), Mano watching with delight and fascination as they floated by. While Nin and Gimli raced around the flowered meadow playing a game of tag, their loose copper hair flying behind them as they dashed and dodged one another.
Gloin would gladly give up all his wealth, possessions, even his standing to go back to being poor and homeless, just to simply be happy with all his loved ones again (but this is a story for a different time).
Alas, Fate had not been kind to Gloin and Nei. Their family lived in a caravan with several other families, eking out a living delivering goods, and selling their skills and wares to local towns. In fact many Dwarves were homeless since the Worm Smaug stole and took up residence in Erebor. The few who survived were forced to become "the Wandering Folk"… and there were even fewer of them after the Great War of Dwarves and Orcs.
Gandalf could not help feel the sorrow in his heart at the thought of that terrible war. Half-- half!-- of an entire people gone, trying to wipe out an evil that affected all the peoples of Middle-earth. And they had almost done it, alone with no help from Elves or Men. He had been there and had paid witness to the mass slaughter.
As for Gloin and Nei, fate seemed especially cruel. Their caravan was attacked by Orcs and most of the other Dwarves in the caravan were killed, their possessions burned or destroyed. The family managed to get away, along with Gloin's brother, Oin.
Later that year on a cold rainy day, Gimli's twin Nin had been trampled to death by a horse as they had been playing by the road. He had been six years old. The rider's excuse-- before Gloin slit his throat-- had been that the little "Dirt-rat" had been in his way. Gandalf remembered how Gimli had been mute for over a year from the horror of his twin's death. He was also terrified of horses. He had no problems with ponies, but horses were another matter. Even after he grew older and got over his fear, he was never comfortable around them.
Two years later Little Mano died of fever sickness. Not even an Elven potion Gandalf had gotten from Elrond himself could save the little boy. Nei and Gloin were grateful to him anyway for trying to save him, even if it had been futile in the end. Thankfully the potion did ease the little one's suffering-- Mano passed peacefully in his sleep as Nei rocked and sang to him. Nei and the rest of the family were able to take comfort in the fact that Mano only knew love in his short life; he would never have to face the cruelties and hardships of Middle-earth.
Then the whole family almost starved to death years later when the Blue Mountain area suffered a massive drought causing famine to run rampant. Minal died of hunger even with Gloin and Nei's shares of food. The loss of Minal was so hard for Gloin he took a vow never to sing again, and he never did.
He loved all his children fiercely, but he always had a special place in his heart for his one daughter. She had taken after him in all things: looks, mannerisms, and her developing skills. She had adored her 'Da' and would always help him set their fires (only she, Daira and Gimli had inherited Gloin's Fire touch). One day she had tottered off to pick some light blue flowers that were growing in the small meadow they had set up camp in, and she never came back. When they found her, she was laying peacefully in the grass as if she had just fallen asleep, except she never woke up.
Several years later Daira was killed by a raiding party of Orcs as they were delivering lumber to a town near Lindon. They literally tore him to pieces before Gimli and Nei could get to him. Daira and Gimli were close, after Nin's death Daira had taken it upon himself to watch out for his younger siblings. It had been Daira who had managed to get Gimli to start talking again after over a year of him being mute.
Gimli looked up to Daira, even when they were older and his axe and fighting skills had advanced to where he could easily beat his taller brother (Daira being five foot one; Gimli, five feet even) he still adored him. Gimli was devastated at his brother's loss and swore vengeance on any Orcs he would come across forever.
Then about three years ago came the family's greatest tragedy: the loss of Lady Nei. She died in Gloin's arms, yet another victim of the Red Plague that was sweeping the area.
The Great Lady Nei Burkdis, war hero, wife of Gloin son of Groin and mother to Gimli, died, huddled in a cold rain-soaked alley between two inns with her husband, his brother and her son, because the inn owners didn't want a bunch of greedy and dirty Dwarves in their establishment.
'An ignorant shame,' Gandalf thought disgustedly to himself. 'Is it any small wonder Dwarves are so secretive and suspicious'? Then with a final long puff on his pipe Gandalf blew a large smoke ring which both he and Gimli watched as it floated up, turning a deep blue then a dazzling bright white before fading into nothing.
"I still can't believe they did it," said Gimli, looking at the mountain that stood proudly in the distance in the noon sun. "I never doubted they would make it. But I was sure Bombur would have died of a stroke, or at least Fili the Fool and Kili the Slow would have killed themselves with their own lack of wit!" snorted Gimli.
"Never?" said Gandalf, regarding Gimli with a cocked eyebrow.
"Of course I knew they would make it! My Da and Uncle Oin are with them!" said Gimli with pride in his voice. "Not to mention good old Balin and this Hobbit, Bilbo, to keep the others out of trouble." He got up and took the two now cooked chunks of meat from the fire, giving a curse when one slipped off the stick, and fell to the ground. He carefully handed Gandalf the other stick with the meat still on it before gingerly picked up the fallen piece, brushing off the ash and dirt as best he could before sitting back down. "I still wish I could have gone," he sighed quietly, more to himself than to the Wizard, before taking a big bite off of his chunk of meat.
And Gandalf noticed a troubled look come back to the young Dwarf's eyes once again. Something had happen while Gloin and the others were out on their quest. Gandalf wondered not for the first time if he should have let Gimli come along. They could have used him several times, for he was a very fit and active Dwarf (and would always remain so, throughout his life). He also had a better head than most, though by his behavior earlier one would not have thought so. But it had been up to him, and his and Gloin's final decision on a dark night a year ago had been no. For like young Estel in Rivendell, and Legolas, Gandalf had a feeling in his bones that Gimli had a key roll to play in a coming storm.
….. *a year ago in a small barn in a mining town called Black Hollow, in the Blue Mountains*……..
"You're too young!" said Gloin, firmly.
"I'm sixty-two! I'm not a child!" yelled Gimli.
"You're still too young, Gimli," said Gandalf calmly as he tried without success to find a more comfortable position on his chair, if an upside-down bucket can be called a chair.
A small fire provided the only light in the dark, old barn that Gloin, Oin, and Gimli called home. They shared the barn with seven other Dwarves, some of whom were sleeping in the unoccupied stalls or were on their shifts in the mines. They as well as Gloin, Oin, and Gimli were almost completely black from head-to-toe from the coal soot, having come off their shifts an hour ago and not having had a wash yet. The barn's other residents were two ponies, one cow and an old swaybacked nag, as well as a few barn cats (one of which was purring, undisturbed by the noise, on Gandalf's lap).
A few of the Dwarves who were going on the quest were also present for this meeting, huddled around the small fire in the center of the barn (carefully made so it would not catch the building on fire).
"Fili and Kili get to go!"
"They're twenty years older than you," sighed Gandalf, absent-mindedly petting the contented cat on his lap.
"So? I'm still faster and stronger than those two spoiled sods! And except for Thorin I'm the best fighter here! You know it!" Gimli argued heatedly.
"Oy!" yelled both Fili and Kili in unison from where they were sitting a few feet away. But a glare from Thorin silenced any insult they might have thrown back.
"No!" said Gloin crossing his arms.
"Da! You know I could help! Gandalf, Thorin, come on! You're taking that useless glob of lard Bombur! What good is he? What are you going to do? Feed him to the Dragon and hope Smaug dies of constipation?" Gimli asked flippantly.
At this almost all the others broke out laughing except of course for the red-faced Bombur. Gandalf, Thorin, and Gloin just barely managed to keep a straight face.
"Why, you little peck! I'm twice the Dwarf you'll ever be!" said Bombur, puffing out his chest angrily.
"I'd say more like three times," said Gimli, eyeing the fat Dwarf's ample gut, not the least bit intimidated.
That had everyone howling, and not even Gandalf, Thorin, or Gloin could hold back the smirks and chuckles after that.
"You…you!" Bombur was livid.
"Sit down, Bombur," said Thorin, now getting his chuckling under control.
"But Thorin-!" grumbled Bombur.
But Thorin only shook his head and pointed to where Bifur and Bofur were sitting trying to stifle their laughter. With one last glare at Gimli (who ignored him) he stomped off, mumbling under his breath about 'flyweights and their loose tongues'.
"We know your skill, Gimli, and I would take you along if it were my choice. But it is your father's and Gandalf's decision that you stay. Besides, if we fail, someone will have to tell the tale of our folly," he said, trying to lighten the mood.
Thorin sympathized with Gimli, for he thought the young Dwarf would make a fine addition to their quest. Gimli had his father's 'Fire Touch' and a remarkable skill with weapons that far surpassed Gloin's and the others, and maybe even his own (though he would never admit it, not even to himself, being too well aware of his own importance to even consider the possibility). He could understand why the young Dwarf was upset; after all he himself had marched to war at the age of fifty three. Thorin gave Gimli's shoulder a fond pat, then moved off, collecting the others before exiting the barn. Gandalf, Gloin, Oin and Gimli were left sitting in the now quiet building, the stillness broken only by the occasional snore.
"But-" Gimli started.
"No buts, boy! The decision is final! You're staying!" said Gloin with his arms crossed over his chest, daring Gimli to say more. Gimli held his tongue but it was clear to all that he hated their decision.
"I'm going to check and make sure all our flint supply is good for the trip," Oin said to Gloin, who nodded in reply. He gave Gimli's shoulder a comforting squeeze and shot him an apologetic look before leaving the barn as well.
Then Gloin softened. "I know it's hard to stay behind, Gimli. I would like it if you were with us as well," Gloin said with a gentler tone now, unfolding his arms and pulling Gimli into an embrace. Gimli returned the show of affection but with a confused and hurt look on his face. Gloin stepped back and looked at Gimli, studying his expression.
"There's a good chance your uncle and I won't be coming back," he said. Gimli opened his mouth to say something but Gloin shushed him. "That's why I want you to stay here, so that if something does happen you will still be here to go on and to remember us. You're the only child I have left, Gimli. My heart cracked every time I lost one of you, and when I lost your mother my heart turned to coal. If I lose you my heart would surely crumble to dust!" There was a sorrowful look in his deep brown eyes as he spoke.
At one time Gloin had been known for his light-hearted and optimistic attitude, but after suffering grief after grief, his demeanor had darkened, and now he was known only for his sharp tongue and gloomy disposition. All the anger and confusion drained out of Gimli, and he reluctantly nodded his acceptance of their decision.
"I still don't like it," he grumped.
"You don't have to," smiled Gloin, giving Gimli's cheek a fond pat before stepping away from him. "Now, if all goes well, I'll send back a message for you to come to Erebor some time next Spring. If not, Gandalf will come and tell you of our demise. You know what to do then. But until then I want you to save up your earnings. I've cut a deal with Brayak about you staying here, so don't worry about the rent as long as you help him out with a few chores. No DRINKING and no FIGHTING! I don't want to hear from Hanar that you and that loudmouth Ulfr have been running wild while we're gone. And I don't want to hear about you messing around with that black-haired filly working at the inn!
"You mean Myia? We're just friends," Gimli said innocently, though the lecherous gleam in his eye at the mention of her name said otherwise.
"Yes, her!" Gloin said, swatting the now smirking Gimli upside the head. Gloin did not approve of fornicating outside one's own race. He was still quite miffed at finding his son and the human wench on several occasions "hammering the anvil" when said son was supposed to be on break, or worse, working! Must be from his mother's side, he thought sourly, remembering all of Nei's suitors and the fights that had followed. Gimli, taking after his mother, was quite the Dwarves -looker, and could be considered comely even by human standards, so there was no shortage of Gimli's 'friends' about. "Think of your mother! She's probably rolling in her tomb as we speak! I swear one day you'll find yourself between some Elf's legs!" groused Gloin.
Just at that moment Gandalf seemed to suddenly suffer a coughing fit. He waved off their questioning looks, muttering something under his breath that sounded suspiciously like "you have no idea", before returning to his pipe with a twinkle in his gray eyes, as if he knew some humorous secret. Considering that he was a Wizard it was probably the truth. The striped cat on his lap only opened one eye, annoyed that he would ruin such a perfect nap, before going back to sleep.
Gloin shook his head at the Wizard and the cat before he returned to lecturing his son.
"Since those Orc raids on the coal shipments stopped, the mine work should be constant. But if something does happen, make for Turquoise Hill (Turquoise Hill was a small permanent dwarf camp to the west, past a small town called Shiprock, yet still in the Blue Mountain region. It was set up in front of a small hill that was actually the mouth of a turquoise mine.) Master Drow owes me a favor, so he can give you work. If I don't find you here I'll check there," said Gloin as he started to walk in the direction of the barn door. "Remember to keep your axes sharp and clean, do your Forms, don't forget to keep your wages hidden, and watch out for Rowell! There's something dark to that Man, not to mention he's up to something.
"Yes, yes, I know!" said Gimli impatiently, rolling his eyes, annoyed that his father would think he needed reminding. He followed Gloin out of the barn, leaving the watching Gandalf, still smoking his pipe, and the snoozing cat behind.
…..*back to the present*……..
Gandalf ate about half of his bit of venison before he gave the rest to Gimli, who gladly finished it for him, having consumed his portion of meat in four large bites. After that, Gimli busied himself by stoking the fire and smoking the rest of the venison (so he could have something to eat later), while he listened as Gandalf told him about his rescue of his father and the others from three trolls. He stopped Gandalf every once in awhile to make a comment or ask a question.
It was now a little past noon, by the angle of the sun.
The two had lapsed back into comfortable silence, broken only by the cracking and pop of the fire, the creak of leather and the occasional clink of the axes now attached to Gimli's belt as he moved around their small camp.
Gandalf decided that now was as good a time as any to get to the bottom as to why the young Dwarf was here and not where he should be, and to find the cause for the unexplained scars, some of which were still an angry red. He was beginning to become greatly concerned about what had happened to the young Dwarf in the past year.
"Gimli, come over here and sit down," said Gandalf, waving to a space beside him. Gimli finished stoking the fire, then reluctantly came over and sat down as he was told. By the uncomfortable expression on his face and the way he looked everywhere but at the Wizard, he knew what was coming.
"Gimli, what are you doing here?" asked Gandalf calmly.
"I told you. I was on my way to the Iron Hills when a Raven called Vok stopped me and told me about Smaug's death and the Elf King-" But Gandalf interrupted him.
"Gimli, I have known you since before your honorable mother birthed you-- and I know when you are not telling me the whole truth!" Gandalf said sternly, his tone causing Gimli to flinch.
"What were you doing going to the Iron Hills, anyway? You are not dressed properly for traveling, not even for the proper time of year," continued Gandalf, motioning to Gimli's thin sleeveless red shirt. "You have no supplies with you…" He paused, but Gimli kept his face turned to the fire, silent. "Gimli, why are you not at Black Hollow like your father told you? And how in Aule's name did you get those scars? What happened?" he said softly.
At first Gandalf thought Gimli would say nothing, for the Dwarf sat stiffly, staring into the flames of their fire and not looking at the Wizard. The silence stretched as Gandalf studied the silent Dwarf, patiently waiting for Gimli to speak.
Dwarves expressed emotion and feelings mainly through body language and their eyes. In fact Dwarves had an entire language of just body language alone (extremely helpful when one found themselves in a situation that called for silence yet still needing a way to communicate). At the moment Gimli sat beside him with his crossed arms resting atop his bent knees, and his chin resting on his arms. His deep brown eyes were almost completely black, ringed by only a small band of rich brown from under thick eyelashes. The flames from the fire seemed to dance in the depths of their glassy surface. It was then that Gandalf finally recognized the strange look in those eyes that he had noticed but could not identify. He had seen that same look in Gimli's eyes when he was six, mute from the loss of his twin; it was horror and anguish.
Just when Gandalf decided to break the silence, Gimli spoke quietly, hardly above a whisper.
"It started a month after you and father left…"
In case you were wondering about the strange names for Gimli's family, here's what their mannish names mean.
Mother = Lady Nei Burkdis = Lady Nei Axe Goddess
Older brother = Daira = Earth
Gimli's Twin brother = Nin = Water
Gimli = Fire/Stars
Gimli's sister = Minal = Heaven/Sky
Baby brother = Mano = Spirit
Once again, a big 'Thank you'! To the lovely Miss Little My, who whipped this chapter and others into proper shape ^_^ !